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By Rev Charles Seet
(Preached at Life BPC, 8am service, 7 May 2000)

For the past month we have been meditating on the topic of the family, and our purpose for these messages is to strengthen the Christian home. Thus far we have already considered God's purpose for marriage; we have looked at the basis of a Christian family, and also the topic of turning family discord into concord. All these messages are needful. But they will only accomplish their purpose, when we all come to realize that there are changes that we need to implement in our life at home. It is a well-known fact that family life today has changed tremendously because of the fast pace of life. This has not only affected marriages, but also parent-child relationships. There is a breakdown in communication between family members that results in quarrels and fights and even violence. There is also a breakdown in authority and discipline, resulting in delinquency and crime. And sad to say, these things are happening even among Christian families! 

Recently I was shocked to hear how a Christian couple serving God fervently in a conservative church are now on the verge of a terrible divorce that will also affect their two children and one more yet unborn child. The father was the superintendent of the Sunday School and even nominated for deaconship. Evidently people in church thought very highly of him. What they did not know was that he had physically abused his wife, and had started to have an adulterous relationship with someone else.

Recently I also heard the sad story of how a missionary family in a faraway field had been guarding a very well-kept secret - that the missionary's wife had all along been unhappy about her husband's calling. She had reluctantly followed him to the field, and was not only unsupportive, but created problems in his fruitful and blessed ministry. And everyone who sympathized with the husband tried to help him and they patiently put up with her irrational behaviour. But she has finally deserted him and left their 3 children with him, and the whole story has come out into the open.

These and other shocking accounts have taught me one very important thing: We must not take the families in our church for granted. It is my fervent prayer that this would not be true of Life church - that outwardly, we may all appear to be fervent and spiritual Christians in church, and everyone in the family both parents and children - come to church quite faithfully every Sunday. But in reality this is only a façade for a family life that is in shambles.

Dearly beloved, the pressures that Christian families face today are so great that we cannot afford to neglect the home or take them for granted. We must guard our family life from deteriorating. We must pay attention to our families. How can we worship the Lord faithfully if we fail to do His will faithfully at home? How can we serve Him effectively and be entrusted with spiritual responsibilities if we do not fulfill our responsibilities at home? Let us therefore make the effort to keep our home life in order, and if we need to, to set it in order. I speak to all family members - fathers, mothers, children, brothers and sisters - all of us without exception bear the spiritual responsibility to build healthy family life at home. And perhaps for some of us it may take a great deal of humbling ourselves, apology, willingness to forgive, willingness to love and make sacrifices for others, and to rearrange priorities. Even though this may not be an easy thing to do, we cannot afford to neglect it. For, if we do, we would be deserving of the same stern rebuke that our Lord gave to the religious Jews of His day, as we read in our text awhile ago.

I. The Fifth Commandment - Not Only For Kids But For Adults As Well!

A. The Pharisees' Violation of it

The Pharisees were extremely meticulous about washing their hands and maintaining ceremonial cleanness (vv.2-5). They were also very careful about what they touched and what they ate. Utensils that had come into contact with ritually unclean food could not be used. In other passages, the Pharisees are described as Jews who prayed long prayers in public, fasted often, gave tithes of all their possessions, and studied the Law of God very carefully to ensure that they did not break even any of them.

But in their spiritual zeal, they had neglected the weightier matters of God's law, such as judgment, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23). And one of these weighter matters they had neglected was their responsibility to their parents. They had come up with an 'exemption' clause to the fifth commandment.

A son need only declare that what he had intended to give his father and mother be considered "Corban," i.e., a gift devoted to God, and it could no longer be designated for his parents. By devoting the gift to God, a son did not necessarily promise it to the temple nor did he prevent its use for himself. What he did do was to exclude legally his parents from benefiting from it. In today's terms we would say that the Pharisees had come up with a 'legal loophole' that could be used to circumvent the Law. And because of the sinful nature of man, we can be sure that many would maliciously take full advantage of this loophole to shirk their responsibility to provide for their parents, but would do so with the blessing of the Pharisees!

The same sins are still found today. Many are still trying to find ways and means to avoid their responsibilities to their parents or grandparents. That is one reason why a few years ago our government had to implement a family tribunal court system to settle disputes between parents and their children.

There are some who think of the fifth commandment - "Honour thy father and thy mother" as a good commandment for their children to follow. And they would heartily support its teaching in children's Sunday school lessons. But this commandment is not only for children, but for adults as well. We must not think that once a child grows up and becomes independent, he is totally free from all obligations and responsibilities to them. He must honour them throughout his whole life. To honour one's parents means to respect them, to reverence them and be concerned about them.

B. The Example of David  (1 Samuel 22:1-3)

The Bible gives us several examples of honouring one's parents. One is found in the life of King David. According to 1 Samuel 22:1-3, When David was fleeing as a fugitive from the jealousy of King Saul and came to the cave of Adullam, his family came to stay with him. David's concern for the welfare of his parents caused him to bring them to his friend, the King of Moab to be taken care of. He said, "Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me." There may have been two reasons for this: He was worried that King Saul may hurt his parents while trying to kill him, or he wanted his parents to live in reasonable comfort and his hideout was not such a place for them.

C. The Example of Christ

In the New Testament, the importance of the fifth commandment is seen in Jesus's obedience to Mary and Joseph. According to Luke 2:51, He was subject unto them. And even when He was dying on the cross, He cared for his mother' s welfare and asked John, His disciple to take care of her. (John 19:26,27).

II. The Responsibilities Included in Keeping the Fifth Commandment

From these biblical examples, we have already begun to see some specific ways in which children are to honour their parents. I would like us now to consider five specific responsibilities we have toward our parents. The first three are positive and the last two are negative:

A. Respect Their Position and Authority.

Leviticus 19:3 - "Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father.," The word "fear" here means to respect and give reverence to them. Give them due respect by always greeting them and acknowledging them. Do not ignore them or take them for granted. Do not call them by their first names, as if they are your own contemporaries. Treat them as you would treat a guest of honour. If you are having a meal with them, give them the best portion of food. If they visit you, let them sit in the best seats. When walking with them, let them walk in front of you or beside you, but not behind you. 1 Kings 2:19 - "Bathsheba therefore went unto king Solomon, to speak unto him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her, and bowed himself unto her, and sat down on his throne, and caused a seat to be set for the king's mother; and she sat on his right hand."

B. Follow Their Instructions.

Listen attentively to them when they speak. And then obey them. Ephesians 6:1 "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right." (see also Col 3:20). The words 'in the Lord' are important. Many of us come from non-Christian homes. And parents may instruct us to do something against scripture. E.g. Stop going to church, stop attending Bible study, to bow down before idols. Or worse, they may instruct us to commit sin by cheating, lying, or stealing for them. Do I have to obey them?" Parental authority can only be disregarded when it violates God's higher authority.

Now the situation is different if his parents instruct us in non-moral matters. For example, a parent does not want his grown up son to get married to a lady he has chosen, on unreasonable grounds: perhaps she is a little too fat or too thin. Or, a mother wants her married daughter to reject her husband's decision to buy a new flat. This is difficult, but let us consider two principles:

1. Although obedience is called for in non-moral issues, this does not mean we cannot persuade them to change their minds on non-moral issues. Loving persuasion can be a big help if parents are willing to listen.

2. As long as we are dependent on them for our livelihood, (i.e. we are not financially independent from them) we still have to obey them, if they refuse to be persuaded. But once we have our own job and become responsible for our own lives, our parents must allow us to assume full responsibility for things like: choosing a marriage partner, vocation, or investments in life. And the Bible says that when a person is married, he leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife. Marriage indicates that the couple is now independent of their parents' control. Now this does not mean they can just ignore what their parents say. They should still respect the counsel of their parents, but they should not feel compelled to obey everything that the parents dictate to them on non-moral issues.

C. Provide For Them In Sickness And Old Age.

The Lord has arranged a beautiful bond of mutual care between generations. Parents have the privilege of caring for their children for the first years of life and children have the privilege of caring for their parents for the last few years of life. Even if your parents are well and sufficiently provided for, you should not forget them when you settle down and have your own family.

Make it a point to visit them or call them once a week. It may not seem important to you but it is important to them. My own mother went to be with the Lord more than a year ago and when we went through her personal belongings we found the diaries she kept for the past seven years. And in it she would even write things like - "My son phoned me today" or "my daughter visited me today".

Now we understand that sometimes it gets extremely difficult to take care of an aged parent who is sick or bed-ridden. One needs to have much love and patience to take care of him when he suffers from things like dementia, incontinence, stroke, blindness, deafness, and loss of appetite. They may even become quite unreasonable, difficult and demanding. One member of our church has a mother who got lost twice because she suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and he was worried when she did not return home. They may have to be watched around the clock in two or three shifts. And sometimes things may go on like this for years and years. There may be times when you might even feel like giving up, but you must never abandon them. One way that you can keep on doing this is to imagine yourself in their situation, and try your best to feel what they feel (empathise with them). Remember that one day, it may your turn to go through the process of aging. So do your best to make their final days of life on earth as pleasant as you would like your own final days of life to be.

There is a question that you may face: Should a Christian put his or her parent in a nursing home if it becomes too difficult to care for him? I feel that there is no need for a Christian to feel guilty if circumstances compel him to put his parent in a nursing home. If we really do not have personal resources to give adequate care for a parent ourselves, then with their consent, we may put him in a nursing home, where proper care will be given (care which we cannot give). We just need to be careful to visit them regularly, and be sensitive to their needs. The sad thing about the elderly who live in these nursing homes is that their children neglect them altogether -- they are forgotten and abandoned, because out of sight often means out of mind as well.

Now there are other options that can be considered: The home nursing foundation provides nursing service for the aged in their own homes. Some who are able to afford it, may employ a household maid who is dedicated solely for the task of looking after the needs of the sick parent. Nothing however can be better than receiving personal loving care and encouragement from one's own children.

D. Do Not Take Advantage Of Them.

Please do not treat your parents as servants, e.g. the matter of babysitting. Siblings have been known to quarrel with one another over who can have mother to come and look after their children for them! They should let mother decide what she wants to do. Do not seek for a bigger share of the inheritance from them. C.f. the prodigal son - demanded his share of the inheritance even before his father died and then squandered it all away! (Luke 15:12)

E. Do Not Speak Evil Of Them

We should not do this even though they may not be perfect. It is sinful to reveal your father's or mother's sins and speak of them in a despising manner. Honour them even in what you say to others. If there is nothing good that you can say about a parent, then keep silent about them. If you need to correct them, do not scold them or criticise them, but entreat them or plead with them (1 Tim 5:1).

What if my parents have not treated me the way they should? e.g. Treated me cruelly, unfairly compared to the way my siblings were treated? Do I still have to honour them? Yes, because honour is due to them, not on the basis that they have earned it or are worthy of it, but on the basis of the eternal relationship that exist between parent and child. The child came into being through the parents. That is itself gives them right to receive honour from the child. No child will ever have any other parents from whom he derived his life. This brings us to the next point:

III. Why We Must Fulfill These Responsibilities

1. Because Parental Authority Represents God's Authority To Us.

One passage that demonstrates the connection between parental authority and God's authority is the passage on the descendants of Jonadab, son of Rechab (a.k.a. the Rechabites). The Rechabites strictly observed their father's command to dwell in tents and to abstain from drinking wine. Even when Jeremiah offered to them pots of good wine, they refused to yield. For their obedience, God commended them and held them up as an example for the Israelites who did not obey Him. (Jeremiah 35:6-10).

2. Because There is a Promise Attached to this Commandment

The promise is stated in Ephesians 6:3 -  "That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth". The promise here is that of long life, but how does this come? This is not stated, but there are two possible ways: Firstly, obedient children are always a blessing to their parents and will take care of their parents even in their old age - as a result, parents will generally live longer. The aged parents, in turn, will continue to provide wisdom and guidance out of their rich experience that will help their children to prosper and weather the storms of life.

The writer of proverbs states this benefit as follows: "My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains [in a good sense] about thy neck" (Prov 1:8-9). A second possible way that long life may come out of obedience to the  fifth commandment is this: Christian children who obey their parents will also understand obedience to authority and to God. They will not become rebellious, trouble-making misfits, but good law-abiding citizens. This augurs well for a life of tranquillity that would tend to prolong life.

3. Because of The Shame and Disgrace Of Violating This Commandment

In addition to these incentives, there are also a number of disincentives given in the Bible concerning the breaking of the fifth commandment: Children who do not provide for their parent in their sickness or old age bring shame and disgrace upon themselves e.g. Prov 28:24 - "Whoso robbeth his father or his mother, and saith, It is no transgression; the same is the companion of a destroyer."; 19:26 - "He that wasteth his father, and chaseth away his mother, is a son that causeth shame, and bringeth reproach.". In 1 Tim 5:8 The apostle Paul wrote concerning those who refuse to support and care for their widowed parents or grandparents - "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."

Dearly beloved, this morning we have considered the responsibilities of children to their parents according to the fifth commandment "Honour thy father and they mother." We have seen how these are brought out in the biblical examples, and in the three reasons. Let us therefore make the effort to fulfill our responsibilities well, be learning how to honour our parents well - positively: respecting them, obeying them and providing for them when they need our support and care, and negatively refusing to take advantage of them or speak evil of them. May the Lord help us to apply what we have learnt today.

Vision & Mission


To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

February 18 & 25 - Fruit of Obedience

If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. John 15:10